Feature: The El Salvador Mural Archive

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by Rachel Heidenry

The El Salvador Mural Archive is an interactive space to view images of El Salvador’s public walls. Launched this month, the archive is home to over six hundred images of mural art, graffiti, and political propaganda. Conceived as a platform and international voice for Salvadoran mural art, the archive is a photographic resource so that painted walls can be researched, shared and documented.

Below are interview excerpts with leading artists and thinkers on mural painting in El Salvador:

Álvaro Sermeño, Salvadoran muralist and ASTAC founder

“The mural is that which has a monumental concept, elements of composition, and where it is difficult to separate the work from its content. This content is reflected, integrated, it is a dialectic unity. The mural is a product of collective process, a product of socialization, a product of a nation’s history, of all the various economies, politics, and cultures.”

“Do I think we are going to see a mural movement in El Salvador — probably yes, probably no. What can happen in El Salvador could happen in any part of the world – the important thing is that we are going to see things. This I am sure. I am going to die, we are all going to die, and here the people will continue. While we exist as a species, we will continue creating things.”

Judy Baca and SPARC, Concepción de Ataco, Ahuachapan, 2010. Photo by Rachel Heidenry.

Centro de la Memoria Histórica

“Our objectives are first: the reconstruction of historical memory. Why do we want this? In order to know the truth, and through the path of truth, justice is carried out… to dignify the victims.”

Carlos Henríquez Consalvi “Santiago”, Museo de La Palabra y la Imagen, President

“Each mural for me is a school – murals constructed with a sentiment most sympathetic to a local history. And for me, murals are schools with open skies where the youth have contact and knowledge of eras they did not live. And the oral memory, these images, reinforce the oral memory that their ancestors communicated.”

“Tributo a la imaginación,” La Palma, Chalatenango, c. 2008. Photo by Rachel Heidenry.

Anita, El Pueblo de Dios en Camino leader, San Ramón community, San Salvador

(Speaking about the murals painted outside her home and community space)

“It is an opportunity for the youth, in this moment, to also understand life – and that others awaken others. And what happens in the streets also awakens the youth – because the murals are not just, “Ah! How beautiful! An art, how beautiful this man,” no. They awaken interest in other questions like, “Who are these people? Why are they here? What did they do?” Thus, the murals animate many of the youth, and some come inside and ask, “And these, what are they?” Thus, it is a manner of drawing out thoughts and histories, to say these are people of vision, people of life as we should live now, people that did so much, and that had their lives taken away. Thus, we have the opportunity to talk about these people, and for me, it gives me much joy.”

“Thus, we here in San Ramón, for example, said we wanted a mural to recollect the massacres. It is this one. (Points to mural). When someone comes they think, “Ah! How beautiful! It is touristic.” But it is not. Thus, we have the opportunity to say, ‘This is our memory.’ The mural only symbolically recollects some, because we could not fit the monuments from all 127 massacres. Thus, it is an opportunity to calculate the communities to the people that come visit us. Or it is beautiful because the people think here is where I lived and here is where a massacre occurred. And no one knows this, but when they come here and see, they say: “I knew this.” And the people begin to talk about.”

“Resistencia de la Vida,” San Isidro, Cabañas, c. 2010. Photo by Rachel Heidenry.

Joalgar, Salvadoran artist

“Our country has lived allegorical moments, historical moments, moments of our memory re-remembered. If we count everything we have seen, everything that we have lived, and everything that we continue reading as historical memory, this will be for the visual artists – including the artisans, photographers, sculptors, engravers, including people that create reliefs, people that create paintings – all of this will give the country a new portrait of life.”

Isaías Mata, Salvadoran muralist and ASTAC founder

“The mural is an instrument to provoke social consciousness, provoke memory, provoke history in the people.”

Walls of Hope, art collective in Perquín, Morazán

America “Dina” Vaquero: “The idea of the murals is to recuperate historical memory in the communities – and not necessarily through scenes of the war. Because war scenes hurt all of the world… Thus, it is better that the community considers the issues they want and they are always positive themes that unite the community and do not leave anyone out.”

“The idea of the murals is to try to join the ideas of one sector and another. And to try to reconstruct the ideas that the people consider beautiful and that are worth the pain of this municipal’s history. We go to recuperate historical memory, the oral traditions of the grandfathers and grandmothers, and to fertilize and promote reconciliation.”

For more information please visit elsalvadormurals.com.